The conformation of a beef cow's teats and udder are important in a profitable cow/calf enterprise. Females with poor udder and teat conformation are a management challenge for commercial cow/calf producers. Cattle producers do not have the time or labor to manage around cows that need intervention at calving to physically "milk-out" a quarter(s) so that the calf can suckle or to save the quarter from infection. Research findings in two experiments indicates that the occurrence of clinical mastitis in beef cow herds was 17.5% and 11.9% resulting in a reduction in weaning weights of 12.5% and 7.3%, respectively. Poor udder and teat conformation can potentially lead to increased calf sickness as teats may be contaminated with mud and debris from a lot or calving area before the calf suckles. Although selecting and culling based on conformation of teats and udders may be considered convenience trait selection, selecting against poor teats and udders increases profit potential by increasing calf performance, reducing calf sickness, increasing longevity of the cow, and reducing labor inputs. Udder and teat conformation is moderately heritable (h2 of udder attachment = 0.2 to 0.3; h2 of teat size = 0.5), so enhancing teat and udder quality can be accomplished by selecting bulls who's female offspring have good teat and udder conformation and by not selecting replacement heifers from dams that have marginal teat and udder conformation. When selecting bulls from your seedstock provider, request the udder score of his dam or visually appraise the udder of the dam to help reduce undesirable udder conformation in your herd.
Udder Suspension and Teat Size
A strong median suspensory ligament is essential for udder conformation. A weak median suspensory ligament results in a lowing of the floor of the udder, sometimes below the hock which makes it more difficult for the calf to nurse and the teats may drag in the mud when the cow walks, and the teats may be suspended inward or outward when filled wit milk instead of straight down.
In Panel 1 are drawings of different median suspensory line which illustrates the strength and importance of this ligament. The median suspensory line/ligament in Drawing 1 is pronounced and would be considered ideal. This type of attachment should allow for the udder to be carried above the hock for many years and teats suspended perpendicular to the ground when fill of milk. Drawings 2 and 3 in Panel 1 illustrate different degrees of prominence the median suspensory ligament with the suspensory line in drawing 2 being more pronounced and more favorable than that illustrated in Drawing 3. Notice as the median suspensory ligament becomes less prominent (weaker) the udder begins to "sag" below the hock, the teats suspend closer to the ground. Also notice, as the ligament becomes weaker, the teats tend to splay outward from each quarter. This is more pronounced when the udder is engorged with milk. Drawing 4 in Panel 1 illustrates poor udder suspension and no evidence of a median line. In this situation, the udder will be suspended below the hock and teats will not suspend perpendicular from the ground when filled with milk.
Drawings in Panel 2 illustrate ideal udder suspension from a side view. The ideal udder is tight to the body cavity. The floor of the udder should be level. The four quarters should be level from the side and rear. Some udders will slope downward from front to rear, which is less than ideal, and rear udder attachment needs to be high. As the median suspensory ligament becomes less pronounced, the udder floor becomes more rounded.
Common teat sizes and conformations are illustrated in Panel 3. Teats should be medium in length and cylindrical in appearance. The diameter should also be consistent from the top of the teat to the bottom with the end of the teat being rounded. The teats should be placed in the middle of each quarter and point perpendicular to the ground. In panel 2 are drawings typical teat conformations. The ideal teat is medium in length, cylindrical in appearance with rounded ends (Panel 3, drawings 1, 2, 3, and 4). Less than ideal teats are less symmetrical and of different sizes and thickness (Panel 3, drawings 5, 6, and 7); are long, pointed, and different sizes (Panel 3, drawing 8), thick, funnel shaped (panel 3, drawing 9), or a combination of thick funnel to thick pear shape (Panel 3, drawing 10). Teats should suspend perpendicular to the ground from the middle of each quarter when they are filled with milk. Sometimes teats will point inward or outward when filled with milk which is less than ideal. As teat length lengthens and udder suspension becomes weaker, teats are positioned closer to the ground making it more difficult for the new-born calf to suckle and there is increased chance for teat contamination from the mud or other debris.
A Description of Scoring Udder Suspension and Teat Size
The ideal time to udder score beef cows is within the first 24 to 48 hours after calving as she begins to freshen. Udder conformation will decline as the female ages, but do not take age into account when assigning an udder score. The following udder scoring system was developed by the Beef Improvement Federation. This scoring system categorizes udder suspension and teat size. A teat score of 9 (very tight, highly desirable) to 1 (pendulous, not desirable) for udder suspension and a score of 9 (very small) to 1 (very large) for teat size.
The BIF scoring system doesn't account for teat and udder pigmentation. Pigmentation is desirable as it is a guard against sunburn of the teat and udder that can be caused by direct sunshine or reflection of the sun off snow.
Udder suspension is illustrated in Panel 4 associated with the BIF Udder Suspension Score. The tighter to the body cavity that the udder is placed, the more desirable. This allows for the calf to more easily to locate the teats and it is less likely for the teats to drag in the mud.
Udder Suspension Score 9: The udder is placed tight to the body cavity, well above the hocks and close to the body cavity. The quarters are mostly level from the side and rear view. The udder has high rear attachment and the median suspensory ligament is pronounced. Panel 4; Drawing 1.
Udder Suspension Score 7: Similar to an udder suspension score of 9, but the udder is suspended slightly farther from the body cavity. The median suspensory ligament is pronounced keeping the udder level and suspending the teats perpendicular to the ground and above the hock. Because the medium suspensory ligament is pronounced, the teats suspend perpendicular to the ground when filled with milk. Panel 4; Drawing 2.
Udder Suspension Score 5: The medium suspensory ligament is less pronounced and the udder is suspended farther from the body cavity. The teats begin to splay slightly outward when engorged with milk because of the weaker ligament. Also the quarters may not be level. An udder suspension score of 5 is likely the commercial cow average score. Panel 4; Drawing 3.
Udder Suspension Score 3: The median suspensory ligament is vague resulting in loose attachment of the udder. The udder is suspended down to the hocks of the cow meaning that the teats reside below the hock. The quarters are not level and teats splay in an outward direction that is very pronounced when engorged with milk. Intervention may be required at calving. Replacement heifer retention from these dams is discouraged. Panel 4; Drawing 4.
Udder Suspension Score 1: The median suspensory ligament is absent resulting in a loose and pendulous attachment of the udder. The udder suspends below the hocks and teats reside below the hock. The quarters are not level and teats are not perpendicular to the ground when filled with milk. Intervention is required at calving. Intervention definitely required to avoid a spoiled quarter or mastitis. Replacements should not be kept from these dams and producers should cull these cows. Panel 4; Drawing 5.
Teat size can vary considerably. Panel 5 is drawings of teat sizes associated with the BIF scoring system. As teat size becomes smaller, more symmetrical, and more central in placement on the quarter, it is more desirable. Teat size can be generally categorized as very small, small, intermediate, large, and very large. It is seldom that cattle have the very small teat size. More common are the small, intermediate, and large teat size. As teat size becomes larger they tend to be thicker, less symmetrical, and suspend below the hock.
Teat Score 9: Teats are very small in length, rounded at the ends, and symmetrical. Teats are located in the center of the quarters and face perpendicular to the ground. Panel 5; Drawing 1.
Teat Score 7: Similar to teat score of 9, but the teats are longer. Teats are located in the center of the quarters and face perpendicular to the ground. Panel 5; Drawing 2.
Teat Score 5: Teats are longer, larger in diameter, appear to be thicker, and are less symmetrical compared to teat size 9, 8, 7, and 6. They may not be perpendicular to the ground or centered on the quarters. Panel 5; Drawing 3.
Teat Score 3: The teats are long and large in diameter, appear thicker, and not symmetrical. They may appear to be funnel shaped. The teats may appear to begin to balloon at the point of attachment to the quarter. Because the teats are long, they are usually suspended below the hock. When engorged with milk, teats will not be perpendicular to the ground. Intervention is usually required at calving. Replacement heifer retention from these dams is discouraged. Panel 5; Drawing 4.
Teat Score 1: The teats are long, appear thick, and usually large and funnel/pear shaped. Teats suspend well below the hock which makes it difficult for a new-born calf to find, attach, and suckle. Intervention is required at calving. Intervention definitely required to avoid a spoiled quarter or mastitis. Replacements should not be kept from these dams and producers should cull these females from the herd. Panel 5; Drawing 5.